TRUMBULL — The FCIAC softball storyline shifted slightly on Wednesday afternoon at St. Joseph High School. The Cadets, widely viewed as the conference favorites and possessors of the most potent offense, were limited to two hits by Darien’s Erika Osherow in a 1-0 loss.
Osherow has given the Blue Wave an old-school dynamic, if old school is the right term for just a few years ago, when the distance between home plate and the mound was moved back four feet. Games like Wednesday’s were the norm between contenders, but now have become close to extinct as offenses have caught up and even overtaken good pitching.
The outcome didn’t knock the no-longer-unbeaten Cadets (12-1, 10-1 FCIAC) off their perch but rather allowed the Blue Wave (12-1, 10-1) to move up a step and join them.
Asked if prior to the game he felt his team should have had a little higher elevated status, and whether that was extra motivation, Darien coach Nick DeMaio said, “We might have been a little bit more of an unknown going into the season. We felt that way, but we didn’t feel slighted. I think if St. Joseph had beaten us they would be out as a frontrunner as an undefeated team with a couple of teams chasing them. This kind of evens things out a little bit.”
The win over St. Joseph further stamped Osherow as the league’s most valuable player at the three-quarter pole, and her lead is by many lengths. No one player does more for her team, though her excellence tends to overshadow the fact she has a solid team behind her, especially on defense.
“Coming off this game it is an emotional win,” Osherow said. “St. Joseph is an all-around awesome team. Really, I feel like it could have gone either way. We managed to stay on them the entire time.”
A quote from Osherow will never be found on another team’s bulletin board. Getting her to talk about herself is more difficult than hitting against her. It is an opening to either talk about the Blue Wave’s “energy level,” a favored phrase, or praising the opponent.
Osherow was pushed to near-perfection because the Cadets’ Nicole Williams was almost her equal. On another day, it would have been Williams deflecting questions about herself to an opponent.
“I think Nicole did a great job,” Osherow said. “We knew coming in it would be a pitchers’ duel. We tried to keep our energy up and keep coming at them.”
The only separation between the teams came in the third inning, and this time it was Osherow’s bat — she even overshadows herself — that made the difference. Kelli Reyes led off with a single and went to second when the ball got by the leftfielder. After Christina Chariott walked, Osherow delivered what proved to be the game-winning double.
What could have been a big inning was stymied by Williams, who retired the next three batters, and was unyielding thereafter.
“This was a great win against a great team,” DeMaio said. “Erika threw her usual gem out there. It was a tight game with no margin for error. What was great to see about Erika is the way she handled the pressure. She does not give into pressure. We did have a few opportunities to put up another run and didn’t. We should have had a little bit more of a cushion.”
The temptation in most circumstances would have been to ask St. Joseph coach Jeff Babineau whether this may be viewed as a good loss in a month if his team goes on a title run.
But the Cadets were stopped by a skilled pitcher, and though they have dominated the hype to date, they have been humble frontrunners, a team others want to beat because they are good, not because they are arrogant.
“Two good pitchers throwing,” Babineau said. “We just couldn’t catch a break today. We’ve caught breaks all year.”
Though there are a few more teams lurking ready to have their say, Darien-St. Joseph II could certainly be in the offing.
“We are probably going to run into St. Joseph again and it probably is going to be another great game,” DeMaio said. “That’s what I think is going to happen, not thinking that far ahead.”
Two great teams, two great pitchers, two worthy would-be champions.
For now, two occupants on the same pedestal.